Using tissue analysis in Balanced Nutrition

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Plant tissue analysis is an excellent way to determine if a crop is actually getting the nutrients which are needed. This can help in evaluating the fertilizer program up to the point of sampling and allows adjustments to be made. However, it is a tool which must be used with caution.

The tissue sampling method is critical for success. The procedure is unique to each crop. The plant must be at a specific stage of growth, and a specific tissue must be selected. Failure to follow the prescribed method for that crop will produce misleading results. Samples are then quickly rinsed in distilled water an immediately sent to the laboratory.

Once the analysis is done, the nutrient contents are compared with known minimum values for that crop (critical values) and nutrient deficiencies or excesses are identified.

A more recent approach is to look at both the nutrient levels as well as the ratios of the nutrients, a process known as Diagnostic and Recommendation Integrated System (D.R.I.S.). This system shows a lot of promise, but is still being fine tuned.

There are certain things that plant analysis cannot do. It cannot predict nutrient needs before planting. In the case of short term crops, plant analysis does not identify problems early enough to solve them. It also does not identify acidity problems or other soil conditions which may affect uptake of the nutrients by the crop. It is therefore not a substitute for soil analysis.

When plant analysis is used as the sole method of determining nutrient needs, it can give misleading information even when sampling is done properly. A low level of nutrients in the tissue indicates that something is wrong, but does not necessarily indicate that fertilizers are needed. Nutrient uptake may have been inhibited by problems such as root pests and diseases, waterlogging, drought etc.

An adequate level of a nutrient in the tissue does not always indicate that fertilizer application is unnecessary. Often, when one nutrient deficiency is solved and the plants begin to grow, the levels of other nutrients may fall below the adequacy level due to a process known as dilution.

Plant analysis is a powerful tool, but the results must be interpreted intelligently.